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The Challenges of a Pandemic-Induced Digitalization

After being in a pandemic for more than a year now, one would think that everyone has already grown accustomed to the new norm where almost everything can be done online.

Changing to a Digital Economy

Back in the mid to late ’90s, technology experts and enthusiasts have boldly predicted the world’s digitalization will take place much sooner than later. They reasoned that the rapid spread of the internet and the pace at which technology keeps advancing will be the primary reasons for the global shift to a digital economy.

They’re not wrong about it but they never factored in COVID-19. More than anything else in recent history, the dreaded disease has greatly accelerated our transition to an almost fully digital lifestyle.

When the pandemic broke out over a year ago, almost every industry came to a grinding halt. This has led to companies and businesses closing their doors temporarily (some permanently, unfortunately) while the World Health Organization did its best to address the health crisis. Eventually, we have been given general guidelines and were allowed to carry out our businesses and affairs, albeit at a limited capacity.

This move had business owners and employers devising strategies that will keep their companies afloat. Employees were allowed to work remotely. Educational institutions implemented distance and online learning to lessen the pandemic’s impact on education.

Pretty much everything that’s anything is now done online and all seems well. Or is it?

Challenges of a Pandemic-Induced Rapid Digitalization

So far, almost a year and a half into the pandemic, it seems like almost everyone has already adapted to the new digital normal. A lot of folks have already purchased smartphones, tablets, and computers for remote work. Some have simple set-ups while others have the latest Intel NUC 8 processors. Businesses have also made unexpected equipment and systems upgrades to allow their workers to stay productive despite being away from the workplace. Everything seems in place.

However, contrary to what a lot of people think, the transition to going digital has not been entirely easy for everyone.

The sudden move to the digital realm caught a lot of businesses off-guard. Understandably, not everyone is equipped for a change this sudden, especially smaller businesses.

Tech teams were put on the spot and were forced to produce years of major digitalization work in only months. They had their work cut out for them.

The great influx of people on online platforms has caused companies to increase their dependence on technology by a huge margin compared to pre-COVID times. According to some reports, the rate at which companies are implementing tech projects is three times faster than before.

While these changes have provided businesses with solutions to pandemic-induced problems, they have also created newer ones for technologists. There is now an overwhelming amount of digital noise that has been created by these new processes and technologies that they no longer know which concerns to address first.

At this point, one of the major concerns with digitalization is its impact on the economy. Businesses are experiencing an unprecedented spike in online transactions and interactions that used to only be a minor aspect of their operations. Just to put things in perspective, today’s global IP traffic is around 150,000 GB per second which is a far cry from only 100 GB a day a few decades ago.

At the rate things are going now, we’re bound to hit close to 180 zettabytes by 2025, which isn’t really that far off because Seagate has recently released hard disk storage with a 3 ZB capacity.

One of the major disadvantages that digitalization brings is the unfair advantage of richer countries that can easily access and finance digitalization. As it is, around 90% of data centers in the world are housed in first- and second-world countries while third-world nations account for a mere 2%. Simply put, not everyone in the world is benefiting from digitalization as digital economy dividends remain unevenly shared globally. Closing this gap will be a herculean task.

Another major point of concern is how it is currently an unsustainable shift. As hard as technologists and tech firms try, because of the increasing demand for hardware, the rate of the extraction of rare minerals for production has been increased. The upgrades have caused massive obsolescence that in turn has produced mountains of waste. Internet expansion has also greatly increased its consumption of global electricity production by up to one-tenth.

Other greater environmental impacts need to be addressed if we are to completely embrace a fully digital economy. It has been growing at a rapid pace way before the pandemic hit. If things go well, we’re looking at a projected $37 trillion, which is about 26% of the world’s GDP, for the digital economy alone by 2040. That’s not exactly a bad number but before we get there, we need to figure out a way to make it as sustainable as possible.

We’re still early in the game, technically. But tech firms and technologists need to figure out ways to address the different concerns involving the rapid digitalization we’re experiencing right now. Undoubtedly, it is the future. But its success or failure will depend on how the different concerns are addressed.